When Darryl Dawkins decided to leave Maynard Evans High in Orlando and jump directly to the 1975 NBA draft, there was no pre-draft combine. No early entry deadline. No countless individual workouts and interviews.
“I didn’t make my decision until three days before the draft, and I just figured I wanted to be able to help my brother and sister get through college, and take care of my mother and grandmother, so I took that route,” Dawkins said in 2000, according to The Allentown Morning Call in Dawkins’ adopted hometown in Pennsylvania.
A year earlier, Moses Malone from Petersburg, Va., had joined the ABA’s Utah Stars from high school, but Dawkins would be the first to join the NBA. Bill Willoughby would be selected in the second round that same year by the Atlanta Hawks.
Dawkins, 58, died Thursday of a heart attack but will be remembered for his outlandish personalty, colorful dunks and being a pioneer for the preps to pros movement.
“I was so young then,” Dawkins said. “I didn’t care what happened. Players today get so excited about the draft. They can’t sleep. I think the I was out with my girlfriend that night, trying to do the wild thing.”
College might have helped Dawkins’ game, but the economic hardship of his family dictated the decision. Darryl and his two brothers were raised by a single mother and they would pick oranges to make extra money. His seven-year, $1 million contract would change the family’s outlook.
Dawkins faced immense expectations, ones that likely would have been impossible for anyone to live up to. Some suggested he would be next Wilt Chamberlain.
“I remember the first time I saw him at training camp,” Billy Cunningham, his former Sixers teammate and later his coach, told the Philadelphia Daily News on Thursday. “I was trying to come back from a torn Achilles’ and there is this kid from high school and I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ He was shooting jumpers. He was running faster than anyone else on the floor. He was jumping higher than anyone and he was stronger than anyone.”
Dawkins would be last player selected in the NBA draft from high school without enrolling at a college for 20 years. (Lloyd Daniels and Shawn Kemp never played college basketball but were enrolled.) The next influx of players included modern superstars Kevin Garnett in 1995, Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O’Neal in 1996 and Tracy McGrady in 1997, among others.
In all 43 players have made the jump, but the names like Garnett, Kobe, LeBron James and Dwight Howard are joined on that list by the likes of Martell Webster, Gerald Green and Korleone Young.
The rules established in the 2006 collective bargaining agreement remain largely in place today. Players must be at least 19 and have to to one year out of high school, the so-called “one-and-dones.” When Adam Silver became commissioner, he indicated that he wanted to push the age limit to 20 — the league had offered a similar plan in the previous negotiations — but the league and the players union will need to agree in the next collective bargaining agreement.
“I think the only reason you should go to college is to get a good education, so you can take care of your family, be financially stable,” Dawkins said in 2000. “But if you can go straight to the NBA, then you have to do it.”